Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Back where it all began - Day 1 - Spooky and Peek-a-boo.

I recently returned to where the CanyonMan story all began.  I went on a 4-day trip to the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument area.  The plan was to drive from Phoenix to Page, AZ late Wednesday night.  Early Thursday, we would drive the 4WD, Smokey Mountain Road from Big Water, UT to Escalante, UT and then over to Hole-in-the-rock Road.  We would spend two days exploring Spooky Gulch, Peek-a-boo slot, Zebra and Tunnel slots.  On Friday night, drive back to Kanab, UT to attempt to snag permits for The Wave area of the Vermillion Cliffs / Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area.  We would hit Buckskin Gulch and The Wave on Saturday and/or Sunday and have some time to see Antelope Canyon.  We would see 5 or 6 of the most spectacular slots in the world. 

As planned, we made the drive from Phoenix to Page, arriving late Wednesday night.  We awoke early Thursday morning, grabbed some supplies and headed out towards Big Water.  The Smokey Mountain Road, while marked as a 4WD road, could probably done with a 2WD High Clearance Vehicle.  We did not have much difficulty making it up and over in our Jeep Liberty.  Most of the time, we ran it in 2WD anyway.  The view from the top of the Kelly Grade is spectacular.

 You do have an option, if you're headed to Hole-in-the-rock Road (HITR).  A "road" from about mid-way between Big Water and Escalante, called Left Hand Collet.  On this trip, we were told by the BLM office that it was declared "impassable".  We headed their advice.  Back in 2007, we made it through in a Jeep Commander.  I would not recommend this route in anything other than a 4WD High Clearance vehicle, with the proper equipment to self-rescue.  Part of the route is spent driving through a creek bed.  Depending on snow and water, the road conditions can vary dramatically from season to season.  Best to check with the BLM before attempting this route.  The Smokey Mountain Road dumps you out right into Escalante.  Time-wise, you don't save anything by going this route as opposed to the highways 98 and 12 around, but the scenery makes it worth it.

Our first stop on Hole-in-the-rock Road was Spooky Gulch and Peek-a-boo slot.  There are many sites that will instruct you on how to get here, but it's about 26 miles down HITR.  You will turn left on a dirt road and continue about 1 mile to the trail head.  It is very easy to find.  Others will have more detailed directions.  Especially the trail guides on http://www.trails.com.  Additionally, there will be different recommendations on the routes to take to see both Spooky and Peek-a-boo.  Most will recommend entering Peek-a-boo, then coming in the back side of Spooky.  I have always done this by entering Spooky, then dropping into Peek-a-boo and coming out the entrance of Peek-a-boo.  Pick your poison.  The entrance to Peek-a-boo is a challenge as is the exit from the back side of Spooky.  Not difficult, but a bit challenging. 

If you have never done a slot, as was the case of my hiking partner on this trip, you're in for a treat with these two slots.  They immediately immerse you into the world of slot canyons in the Southwest.  Spooky gets very narrow, very quickly.  If you are claustrophobic, you might want to re-consider or consider this as therapy.  At one of the first narrow spots, I could not even squeeze my chest through.  I had to duck down a bit and slide sideways through.  I'm not skinny, but I'm not extremely large either, so be prepared for some tight spaces.  You will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views of the forces of nature on this earth.  Imagine the power of the water that formed these canyons. 

One of the tight spots in Spooky - note the debris

Having fun in Peek-a-boo

Some of the interesting arches in Peek-a-boo

The entrance to Peek-a-boo is directly above us

Spooky is about a half-mile to 1 mile long and requires a lot of squeezing and sliding through tight spaces.  It has a sandy bottom and very rarely has water in it. 

Peek-a-boo, which is about a half-mile closer to the trailhead than Spooky, is a fairly short slot.  Like I mentioned earlier, you can either do Peek-a-boo first or Spooky.  There's not even a need to go all the way through Spooky, you could simply go in and come back out, then go in and come back out of Peek-a-boo.  There are lots of options.  However, I highly recommend going through one and coming out the other. 

The entrance to Peek-a-boo from the trailhead is a short climb/scramble up the sandstone, you can see this in the picture above.  It's maybe 15-20 feet high.  If you have some good grippy soles and no fear of heights, the entrance is pretty simple.  There are even hand and foot holds carved into the wall.  Once in Peek-a-boo, there's a large pothole, that has been dry every time I've been here and it was on this trip as well.  There are other spots within Peek-a-boo that do hold water, but I don't see where any would be impassable, even if full. 

Peek-a-boo is much different than Spooky.  It has more open spaces and arches that offer some great photographic opportunities.  Additionally, the kids like it because it's much like the playground equipment with tunnels.  From the entrance to the end, Peek-a-boo is probably no more than .25 miles.  It narrows up towards the back of the slot where you can come out and walk around on top.  There are very easy to follow cairns between the back of Peek-a-boo and Spooky.

Allow yourself more than a couple of hours to explore these two great slots.  The hike to them is short, but it's great to just look around and up and down and be amazed.

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